Sometimes gentle is not the whole answer – and that’s okay.
Lessons on accepting and providing the loving guidance your unique child needs can be hard to swallow at times – especially when, as I have, you experience a severe awakening that a large portion of your parenting style needs to change in order for your trusting relationship with your child to really blossom.
From my first child’s infancy, I have been learning more and more about natural parenting, especially finding meaningful connection with Attachment Parenting tenants and with the ideas celebrated by Authentic Parenting supporters. Connecting with my children in an honest and loving way, allowing freedom for exploration, understanding that limit setting and boundary bending are healthy parts of childhood and parenthood, and embracing non-punitive ways of disciplining, I have grown more and more convinced of and happy with our natural parenting lifestyle.
Until it made things worse.
Hear me out.
Abbey has always been a child with a high spirit and a full zest for life. We have always responded to her unique character to the best of our abilities, but also always struggled with the feeling that our modeling and discipline fell on deaf ears. She will do what she feels like doing – Abbey’s making her own choices. That’s for sure.
I constantly remind myself that a strong will like Abbey’s will serve her well as a pre-teen and adolescent. But at three, four, and now five?! Yikes. It’s quite the battle not to lose my mind by 8:00 AM. Much of what has worked for us parenting-wise is to remember that we can never make Abbey do anything. We can however persuade her that it is the right thing to do, by offering choices, pointing out consequences, and being consistent about following through (or allowing natural consequences to follow through on their own) – - – - even when our heartstrings cry out to appease the bawling little girl that is such a blessing to us (or that is driving us batty – whatever the circumstance). All we can do is offer choices, facilitate her learning about social situations, emotions, and rules, and let her know that we always love her, whether she is in trouble, or she is on top of the world.
A Surprising Discovery
What surprised me recently is that I found out that my calm and reassuring “parenting voice” that I have used with Abbey for years now – is not working any more. It’s as if she doesn’t hear me. I’m starting to think that maybe it hasn’t been working for a while now, and I just didn’t allow myself to notice. I have to be very stern with her – basically, always. And that voice doesn’t sound very lovely. I don’t like the idea that I have to be firm and stern with her when directing her steps and facilitating her learning, but really and truly, it works for her. Perhaps she hears me differently than I hear myself, but when I am firm with her, she responds much better and seems generally happier than when I am using a voice that I think sounds reassuring and loving.
At first, my AP loving instincts said “No! Don’t use that voice! You don’t want your children to be frightened of you!”
But then I realized that she is not frightened by it. She simply hears it. It’s as if when I speak in a loving, song-like voice, she doesn’t hear me at all. But when I feel like I’m barking at her, she hears and processes what I say. I realize that I am not truly barking or yelling at her, but because I have tried so hard to have a calm parenting voice for so long, it felt like it for a while, once I started using a form voice more consistently, as I could tell that she was hearing me more and responding better to my cues and help.
Natural Parenting is Flexible
And it’s okay. I have realized recently that, with some children, in some families, gentle is not always the answer. Whether it is using a more powerful, authoritative voice, or utilizing time outs, or setting stronger limits and parenting with emphasis on consequences, responding with sensitivity and refraining from punitive action can take many forms. It’s not a cookie cutter this is the way you should parent map.
Natural parenting and responding with sensitivity is a continuum – not a way set in stone – in which the #1 goal is to follow your child. The main idea is that our words and actions are coming out of love and guidance, and that we are sensitive to our children’s needs. I promise – you don’t have to surrender your natural parenting card if your little one screams through time-ins but calms down when he’s set in time-out, or if your preschooler responds more readily to a firm voice instead of a gentle one.
If you are feeling a little ostracized (even if its just in your own mind) because of something you feel you do as a parent that is not gentle or natural parenting, I encourage you to think about where your motives are and if the tool works for your child, not what people on the outside of your relationship are seeing. When you get down to it, the most gentle and most natural thing for your child is to follow him or her, and do what he or she needs to succeed. Different children need different guidance and treatment. With my strong willed, high spirited oldest child, I have to be authoritative and stern. Even though many people could see my tone as “too firm”, I know that it works for Abbey. It allows her to hear my words instead of wafting through life not hearing the guidance I’m trying to give her.
And I’m beginning to realize that it’s okay if I don’t sound like Mary Poppins or a Montessori teacher when I talk to her.
It’s whether she is actually hearing my words of love and guidance that really counts.
How do you find that your children hear you best?
Is there any parenting tool that is a little “out of the box”? Tell us about it!
Photo Credit Omninate on Flickr